Competent rope team experienced in trad including multi-pitch, but not climbed at this crag before. Grade of the route was within our joint capability, we had thoroughly researched the mechanics of ascent / descent. Got an early start and made good time on the 2 hour walk-in which was a familiar walking path to me. Weather was mild and dry. We were first to the crag, a pair of our friends climbed the route before us, crag was quiet until we heard a number of other groups arriving at once. In haste to get on the route and not hold up others, we didn't think through our rope setup and this led to a near-miss.
My partner led pitch 1 on a tri-rated rope as a single, I can't recall if this was a conscious decision (route is a straight line) or whether we just defaulted to tying into an end each, maybe out of greater familiarity (of using single rather than doubles) and partly to try and get started quickly / more simply. At some point before I took the lead for pitch 2, we realised we would likely need to switch to a double rope setup to facilitate the complex 'dropped loop' belay configuration on the summit. Safely secured to a belay on the ledge at the top of pitch 1, my partner untied from their end and tied into the middle. As the gear on pitch 2 was in a straight-enough line, I was happy to lead on one end, and my partner put me on belay on the end of the rope I had tied into on the ground (the live rope). Knowing that I 'only' needed the second end for dropping a loop to the pre-placed cam on the backside of the block AFTER summiting, I considered just clipping this second end to my haul line attachment point or a gear loop. But since it would later form part of the top belay, I decided it was much better to tie it into the regular harness points now (next to the live rope end) - I thought at this point I'd averted a near-miss, but actually this action contributed to one. Key factor: I'm tied into 2 ends, but only on belay on one.
We were slightly stressed at this moment, the wind had picked up and a party was just behind on the route, another on the ground and another on Needle Ridge overlooking us. I set off leading pitch 2 and whilst clipping a piece of gear, I confused the two rope ends (being the same colour) and clipped with the end I wasn't on-belay with! Thankfully I realised my mistake before moving up, unclipped it and clipped the live rope. Had I not noticed, moved up and fallen, I'd have taken a factor 2 fall onto the anchor, probably landed badly on the ledge below, and injured myself and the party waiting.
- We should have selected the right rope setup (double ropes) for the whole climb and climbed both pitches like that. Untying halfway on a multi-pitch is unnecessary risk, even if secured to an anchor. This day was a reminder that double ropes are useful not just for wandering pitches / gear placements on route, but also for anchors.
- Even if we had used a single on pitch 1, when we swapped to a double rope setup on pitch 2, we should have switched fully to this style, and I should have been on belay on both rope ends. Alternatively, had I clipped the second rope end on the haul loop at the back of my harness, I also probably wouldn't have made the clipping mistake (since the rope would have been behind me), although I would have needed to remember to switch it to a rated part of my harness when building the top anchor. These mixed styles are what led to the near-miss, we didn't decide between black and brown shoes, and went out wearing one of each.
- We found ourselves getting unnecessarily stressed by the gravity of the route and also when the other parties arrived (I recognised a well-known guide and didn't want to hold their group up as they planned to go onto Needle Ridge afterwards). Of course once we chatted to the other parties, they were very friendly and patient.
- We took a single tri-rated rope to save weight on the walk-in, and planned to double this in half if required, (something I've done safely for many years on single pitch grit routes). Interestingly, had we taken 2 different-coloured half ropes, everything else being the same, it would have been easier to identify the live rope and I likely would not have made the clipping mistake.
Trad rock climbing
Mistake whilst leading - rope confusion
Rescue Services Involved?
24 October 2022 at 07:40:19
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All reports are self-submitted and have not been edited by the BMC in any way, so please keep an open mind regarding the lessons and causes of each incident or near-miss.